On the ground in Ukraine, heavy fighting between government forces and separatists has been taking place near the site where Malaysian flight MH17 crashed into wheat and sunflower fields on July 17, shot down by what Washington and Brussels say was a missile supplied by Russia.
Kyiv accused the pro-Russian rebels on Wednesday of fortifying the area, including with land mines, to prevent the site from being properly investigated. The land mine report could not be independently confirmed. Ukraine is party to a treaty banning land mines; Russia is not.
Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said the rebels were digging in for battle near the crash site: “They have brought a large number of heavy artillery there and mined approaches to this area. This makes impossible the work of international experts trying to start work to establish the reasons behind the Boeing 777 crash.”
The new Western sanctions mark the first time Washington and Brussels have adopted measures designed to hurt the overall Russian economy, after weeks of narrow steps targeting only specific individuals blamed for Russia’s Ukraine policy.
Moscow denies Western accusations that it has armed and supported rebels who are fighting Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine. But Western countries say flows of heavy weapons across the frontier have only increased since the airliner was shot down, killing all 298 people on board.
Despite what the West says is an increase in armaments for the rebels, government troops have advanced since the start of the month, when they pushed the rebels out of their best-defended stronghold, the town of Sloviansk. Since then, Western countries say thousands of Russian soldiers have returned to the border from which they had withdrawn weeks ago.
NATO military commander General Philip Breedlove said the number of troops along the border was now “well over 12,000”, and weaponry was also building up.
Valentyn Nalivaichenko, the head of Ukraine’s SBU security service, said arms including Grad multiple rocket launchers were flooding across the border.
“Grads come in from Russian territory, take pre-agreed positions and fire on the Ukrainians. This is hundreds of rocket launches. They come in, shoot around like in a safari. This is serious military aggression,” he told a news conference.